I met him on a plane out of Sacramento heading south–an elderly gentleman with eyes that signalled intelligence. He held out his hand in greeting and approval. “I’m a bit of a poet,” he said, and before I could buckle my seat belt, he began a recitation of smooth cadence:
with their egotistical pride Who want to own the world and all of its gold
As well as men both body and soul And who will blink not an eye As plans
are laid And another million widows made.”
Maynard Sutton, early seventies, is his name. He came upon his poetry quite by happenstance though it must have been in him all the time. After retiring from his job as an electrical inspector he was visiting his daughter in Missouri back in 1978. He saw a book of popular writings on her table and, leafing through it, told her that he could do better than that. So he started writing poems. But he never stopped reading “everything I could get my hands on.”
He calls his poems “words of Tittle consequence.” He writes them very quickly–in fifteen or thirty minutes with minor revisions. Were his poems to be printed, he would produce more of them, he said. “So I think I’ll just stay home and fill a burning need, Putting words of little consequence into poetry nobody will read.”
Mr. Sutton’s poetry has much to do with time and tragedy, with age and youth, with wars and widows, with wind and fantasy. He does not like the excessive preoccupation of articles and television programs that assume the elderly are just interested in their social security, medical care and investments. Indeed, I found him a person who believes that there is mind growth after retirement and lots of creativity to make as well.
He, the nephew, was on his way to visit his dying uncle in a very rural area of Missouri. His aunt and uncle had such a close and loving relationship, now into their ninth and tenth decade, that earlier he wrote a short essay on witnessing a “young love that has lasted for 65 years.”
Maynard Sutton is a find. He reminds one anew that the only real ageing is the erosion of one’s ideals. We spoke of many things current and he radiated progressive ideals and a rootedness in fundamentals that matter to people of good will.
His poetry speaks for the speechless–the young soldier slain in battle, the Redwood trees, the fetus, the victim of Alzheimer’s disease. I asked if he would consider writing a poem about the exploited Amazon. A few days later, in the mail, comes a handwritten verse composed “somewhere high over Arizona.” It starts “Born in the far western reaches where God stacked the mountains high, oh mother of fresh waters–why do you cry.”
Why in this land of abundance are there not magazines or newspapers who are looking to discover the Maynard Suttons of our country? And, if there were, would there not be emerging more Maynard Suttons?
I asked him who was his favorite poet? He mused for a few seconds and replied: “Robert Burns.” The pithy Scottish poet, who lived a scarce 40 years, two centuries ago, wrote words that fit my airborne acquaintance that day flying south from Sacramento:
“Princes and lords are but the breath of kings An honest man’s the noblest work of God.”